Payback will come for daylight saving time

November 03, 2008|By SUSAN REIMER | SUSAN REIMER,susan.reimer@baltsun.com

I was sure I'd missed it. You know, the "fall back" part of the "spring forward, fall back" time changing that we do every year. I was sure it got by me somehow.

As we moved through the month of October, I kept looking for the little clock on the front page of my newspaper that reminds us that this is the weekend to turn the clocks back, but I never saw it.

Turns out, we don't do it in October anymore. We do it during the first weekend in November, so yesterday was the big day. We did it in November last year, too, but it apparently didn't leave much of an impression on me because I spent all of last month waiting for that extra hour of sleep.

The delay in the time change is the result of a law passed by Congress, the Energy Policy Act, which extended daylight saving time by about a month, beginning it earlier in the spring and ending it later in the fall in order to save energy. Congress had time for that kind of tinkering in the days before the economy collapsed.

According to author Michael Downing, who wrote Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time, the law was changed, in part, to please the candy industry, which was hoping the extra hour of daylight on Halloween night would increase trick-or-treating and therefore candy sales.

Candy industry spokespeople dispute this, The New York Times reported, saying that the real motivation was child safety - they didn't want children walking the streets in the dark any more than necessary.

Anyway, I was not the only one who was confused by the time change. There are a lot of computers and appliances out there and not a few cell phones that still think we make the change on the last weekend in October.

Fixing this mini Y2K problem has cost millions, not to mention the confusion that resulted last month when clocks on microwaves were telling mothers all over America the wrong time and making the kids late for school.

People were not, however, having as many heart attacks, which is surprising when you consider the stress of not knowing for sure what time it is.

Swedish researchers looked at 20 years of records and discovered that the number of heart attacks drops on the Monday after clocks are set back an hour, according to news reports last week.

They concluded that it is probably because we get that extra hour of sleep, but I am suspicious. It might be because all those heart-attack-prone, Type A personalities could relax because they had an extra hour to get everything done.

This day each fall is a mixed blessing. Since it is always a Sunday, there is an extra hour to be spent on the morning paper or at the farmers' market or in the kitchen over a pot of soup. Even sleeping in does not set the day's schedule back by much.

But waiting at the end of this day is the sudden darkness at 4:30 or so, and it is a nasty shock. My friend Patty, who hates the short days of winter so much, starts complaining about this right after the summer solstice.

She is right. The days do begin to shorten in June. But turning back the clock in the fall is like flipping a light switch, and the long dark night of winter begins in earnest.

Like you, I thought daylight saving time was imposed on us in order to extend the summer day and help the farmers. Or to conserve coal during World War I. Or to keep schoolchildren from waiting for the bus in the dark.

Turns out, none of that is particularly true.

Ben Franklin suggested a kind of daylight saving time while ambassador to France, calculating that it would save much money spent on candles.

But the idea didn't take hold until an Englishman named William Willett conceived of the idea of extending summer days by an hour in 1905 because dusk put an early end to his golf game.

Downing writes in his book that the United States got on board not for farmers but for Wall Street bankers, who wanted to remain in sync with British trading hours. Wall Street bankers again. What don't those guys mess with?

That extra hour of sleep you got this weekend (or did not get, if you are the parent of a baby or a toddler who obeys his own body clock) comes with a price, however.

Congress added an extra month to DST - a week in the fall to accommodate Halloween - and three weeks in the spring. On the second Sunday in March, you will have to give that hour back.

And, according to those same Swedish scientists, there will be more heart attacks as a result.

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